Interpreting for the Police – Aide Memoire

What is the one single most important element of the interpreting process? Is it the briefing? The dictionary? The note-taking? All of the above?

What about the introduction?

In all levels of interpreter training, we learn about the importance of an interpreter’s introduction. It serves many purposes – sets the tone, allows you to state your impartiality, establishes you as a professional and essential part of the conversation. The introduction can also help pre-emptively field off any unconsciously inappropriate behaviour from any of the other participants – such as the non-English speaking person asking for advice, ending a statement with: ‘…but don’t tell him I said that’, or wanting to chat with you in the waiting room.

It is very encouraging to see that professionals themselves are also recognising the importance of a thorough introduction. To this end, the College of Policing recently published a document titled ‘Briefing the interviewee: aide-memoire for interpreter-assisted interviews‘, aimed at training police officers how to introduce the interpreter before an interview. If you’ve not yet had a chance to look at it, check it out below!

Interpreting: Briefing the interviewee: aide-memoire for interpreter-assisted interviews

The person who requires interpretation services will need to be briefed via the interpreter. You must conduct this briefing. The interpreter may add points for clarification. If the interview is to be video or audio recorded, then the briefing should also be recorded. A standard briefing may include the following phrases:

  •  ‘We will speak to one another via an interpreter.’
  •  ‘The interpreter is not part of the police. They are here to put what you say into my language, and what I say into yours.’
  •  ‘The interpreter will keep everything that is said during the interview confidential.’
  •  ‘Please do not try to have any separate conversation with the interpreter. They are not allowed to engage.’
  •  ‘The interpreter will interpret everything we say.’
  •  ‘If you have any questions, please ask me or your legal adviser. The interpreter is not allowed to give you any advice.’
  •  ‘We will speak directly to one another as though we share the same language. The interpreter will interpret what we say and speak in the first person.’
  •  ‘We will pause after each sentence to allow the interpreter to do their job.’
  •  ‘If one of us speaks for too long, the interpreter might stop us with a gesture like this.’ [The interpreter should then show how they will stop the interview. The gesture may vary in different cultures.]
  • ‘We must not speak too quickly. If we speak too quickly, the interpreter might have to stop us and ask us to slow down.’
  •  ‘The interpreter is not an investigator and they will not ask questions. They will only interpret what we say.’
  •  ‘You may understand English, but please listen to the interpretation before answering the question in the language you share with the interpreter.’
  •  ‘The interpreter may ask questions to clarify what has been said to ensure the most accurate interpreting.’

Wouldn’t it be great if all professionals took such a proactive approach in understanding the role of the interpreter?

Let us know your thoughts and experiences! Email us on or call us on 0203 475 7771 – we’d love to hear from you!